Moving ahead as a means of re-visiting that which claims us: this process portends one potent lens through which visitors to Née, open through Sunday, May 2nd at REGULAR-NORMAL, can digest this sumptuous solo exhibit of works by Melissa Joseph.
The show, which opened to the public April 2nd at 41 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan (Fl 7), explores not only the artist’s own identity – a significant part of the exhibition’s scope – but also one’s identity within the context of a larger network, such as family. Joseph investigates, through her own relationship to her family and Indian-Irish-American identity, her childhood experiences in Pennsylvania and visits to the Jersey Shore. Mixed-media works portray approximations of accumulated memories, communicated through her intituitive understanding of the figures translated into felted wool, presented here in the show as a tableau-style homage to those who have influenced her upbringing. Through a range of mediums including sculpture, mixed media, textile, and found imagery, the artist reviews poignant moments of her own development, and her family’s past, through the veil of memory. The span of subjects represented here which form her life experience are as wide-ranging as the artist’s own explorations of materiality.
(above image: Clara Aunty at a sitar lesson (2021) needled felted wool on amate bark paper. Melissa Joseph.)
The show is not about nostalgia, remarks Joseph: rather, it is about utilizing different sleights of hand in the form of process – the hand sewing fabric, the hand connecting felt to a substrate, the hand wrapping found concrete fragments in silk – as means of linking aspects of our lives which determine who we are in relationship to our lived experience. The artist creates concrete steps toward this linkage – drawing together disparate elements in approximation to how we construct our identity through a range of relationships and experiences – within the solid forms of objects and artworks present within this exhibition. “I am still trying to understand where I came from. Most people are, but I have had some big paradigm shifts and reframes in the last 5-10 years, so looking back is never neutral,” reflects Joseph. “It’s really a way of “re-seeing” or trying to see things I might have missed more clearly.”
The artist mines a personal archive of family photo albums as a departure point for these mixed media portraits on view in the exhibit: visionary vignettes spanning a range of processes and artistic mediums. Joseph’s multi-disciplinary work often involves working with textiles. Joseph’s new floor-mounted sculptures offer a concrete departure from her work with softer materials, heralding a new embarkation in her practice and approach to art-making. Works such as “Captain Clara, Backwaters”, “Golden hour quarantine walk: Brooklyn Piers” and “Jim, Olive and Albert on Crawford St.” all offer the opportunity for the lived environment to intrude upon Joseph’s more textile-based ruminations. In these scuptural works, the artist creates with silk and wool, integrating these materials in an embrace with firm natural objects, such as rocks, found cement and clay. These objects, gathered from the artist’s experiences traversing Brooklyn, form cogent marks delineating the artist’s trajectory in physical space inasmuch as the artist traces her lineage and memories in the imagery presenting her life’s trajectory in other works on view.
Where more solid materials make their presence known, Joseph applies a softer material, such as felted wool and silk, in dialogue with these less malleable objects. This contradiction in terms of soft and hard material can represent the divergent aspects of memory and identity, particularly as relates to our closest relatives: our relationships to relatives are concrete and easily expressed through language, while remaining in some ways harder to communicate and/or express through the lens of memory. Joseph relates this concept to the idea of an “Aunty”: this formative role, present in families cross-culturally, can indicate a mother-like figure, a mentor, a tutor, or a moral guidepost. While the definitions we apply to our relationships with family members seem straightforward, in many cases it is how members of a family translate and express those roles for those individuals closest to them that adds more dimensions to these roles, and therefore, directing how we ourselves develop as a result of these meaningful relationships. Joseph is able to grasp these keen nuances by shifting between tangible, smooth surfaces and more painterly, hazy images created by working with felted wool, expressing layers of concrete relationships while also abstracting these relationships: much as we grasp a feeling aroundhow someone has impacted our lives, as opposed to tracing our genetic lineage.
The body of work on view was produced in dialogue with, and directly impacted, by the artist re-examining archives translating her family life and the memories that form the bedrock of her experiences in the wake of her father’s passing in 2015. Her work – which, she affirms, is object-based first and image-based second – takes her back to a re-examination of close personal relationships and the frameworks of family dynamics, poignantly expressed through a range of processes. Many of the artist’s works present the artist’s process of incorporating needle felted wool into her work, as she observes, “Felt allows for slippage.” Perhaps it is this practice of hovering liminal spaces between nebulous and concrete, present and past, which allow room for the artist to so forcefully communicate color, line and image, translating identity and memory in such a tactile and visceral manner.
” Née” is on view by appointment through Sunday, May 2nd at REGULAR-NORMAL in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. This exhibition is at 41 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, Floor 7. For appointments, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
ANTE mag is proud to shine a spotlight on the dedicated artists who are exerting an impact in the art world in 2021. From ongoing or upcoming solo exhibitions, to gaining recognition through artist talks, recognitions, awards and international residencies, these are some of the top artists we have an eye on as we move into the new year.
Below we center on the first 7 of our group of 21 artists selected for 2021. Each artist has images but click through to their websites to view more of their practice and familiarize yourself with your favorites!
Lead image courtesy the artist. Melissa Joseph “That pink van took us a lot of places, but never got us here” (2020) Needle, felted wool, inkjet print on Indian duppioni silk 21 x 27 inches
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about the use of “layering” in your practice and how it applies to all artistic disciplines that you work within?
Cecile Chong. My work is about cultural interaction and interpretation. I layer different materials where they become signifiers representing a place or a culture for me. I was born in Ecuador to Chinese parents and lived in Macau with my grandmother for five years between ages 10 and 15. After that, I returned to Ecuador for high school and then came to New York at age 19 to study art. I came to realize that my early life and cultural experiences were very intense, with the transition from one culture to the other being very abrupt. It was as though I was the character of one story line and was suddenly plucked out of it and placed in another narrative in a different setting, speaking a different language. Those experiences also included different religions, socio-economic statuses and family dynamics. Looking back, sometimes I feel like I grew up in some epic movie. At age 10, I went from spending weekends celebrating indigenous festivals like Inti Raymi near the family hacienda in the Ecuadorian Andes, to spending school vacations in the rural family village in Canton China during the Cultural Revolution. I think that these experiences have giving me a lot of subject matter and insights to work with.
I love finding materials that I can incorporate into my work that have meaning or bring some kind of memory. My paintings have 25 to 30 layers of encaustic (heated beeswax, resin and pigment) and I embed different materials (rice paper, volcanic ash, circuit board materials, figures from different books) within those layers. I usually have other projects going on where I apply a similar layering approach with materials. In my “Strainger” Series I use beads from donated necklaces and accessories that are mostly plastic or glass and combine them with beads from different types of rosaries. I also use natural materials and seeds mainly from the Amazon forest like acai, tagua, pambil and huayruro. In my tapestries beside the conventional yarn and ribbon, I’ve also been finding meaning in different materials that I include like utility cords, tassels, feathers, LED lights, metal charms, pom poms, which makes me think of things like colonialism, natural environment and indigenous communities, current technologies, colonialism, industrialization, labor, women’s issues, rebellious teenage years, etc. In 2019, I started working with stop motion animation and began layering languages that I grew up with at home (Spanish, Cantonese, Hakka and English).
ANTE mag.Your practice is influenced by such a range of issues, including economic factors, environmentalism and culture. How do you balance this wide range of influences in your practice?
CC. I react to different issues that resonate with my personal experience. I work intuitively. Some issues bother me, then nag me until they come out in my work.
I started EL DORADO – The New Forty Niners in 2017. It was a result of the president’s hostility towards immigrants. I was also a public middle school art teacher for many years in Sunset Park. In 2016, I saw how the president’s politics and words were affecting my students, their families and, I’m sure, thousands and millions of immigrants in this country and beyond. The atmosphere in my classroom was somber and tense with students being fearful of family members being deported. I then read that 49% of NYC households speak a language other than English. I held on to that number and developed 100 colored “guagua” (Quechua for baby) sculptures. I painted 49 of them gold to honor that 49%. EL DORADO (The Golden) – The New Forty Niners became a public art installation traveling to each of the five boroughs of New York City, one borough per year, and presented as a contemporary archaeological site. The installation has been installed in four boroughs of NYC. It is now installed at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at Snug Harbor on Staten Island until March 28. Towards the end of this year, it will be installed in Manhattan as its final borough.
In 2018, I created a series of paintings addressing the cruelty and absurdity of the family separation policy at the US and Mexico border, which is driven by underlying racism towards people from Central and South America. This policy is a manifestation of the xenophobia and the general opposition to non-white immigration. The titles of my paintings such as DNA Matching, Bully, Border Crossing, Caged In, Nearly Full Capacity, Not Summer Camp, Day in Court, all came from reading about this issue and feeling frustrated and shocked about the cruelty being perpetrated. Unfortunately, as we know, up until last month, the parents of at least 628 migrant children still have not been located.
I have also been creating large scale installations. I have always used nature as a setting for my paintings. Earlier in my practice, I created installations with the idea of the viewers becoming the figures in my compositions. In 2019, I was spending part of my summer visiting my mom in Quito when the fires in the Amazon forest were everywhere in the news. Being one country away from the epicenter, I was devastated and numb. I thought about how we treat nature as though we are not part of it. We destroy, burn, divide the land and we treat mother nature as the other. For the title of the installation I took the “m” out of “mother nature” and created “_other Nature” at Smack Mellon at the beginning of last year. _other Nature was a room-size installation with a fence dividing the room with one side lush and thriving and the other side stunted after human intervention.
I think that “balancing” the influences in my practice happens when I confront what bothers me. It is that “nagging” feeling that happens and that tension that needs to be released that makes me address different issues through my work.
ANTE mag. Can you speak more on how your background as an immigrant artist impacts your work?
CC. The migration experience of my family and my own experience has allowed me to have multiple viewpoints and an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps “fresh eyes,” to look for clues and inspiration in the materials, history and people of a place, physical or spiritual, and to draw insight about its core essence. In the many places I have lived, I think I have been seen by most as somewhat of an outsider. In Ecuador I was “la china”. In China I was a “ghost girl” (foreigner). In the US, I’m an Asian woman with a Spanish accent. I’m okay with that. I look at my life’s travels as a gift. As a result, I feel very connected to my community. I just define my community maybe in larger terms than most. I think when people arrive at a new place we try to find similarities between our old and new environment to anchor ourselves. I think when you spend enough time doing this you come to the realization that we’re all more similar than different. In my work, I do want to depict those commonalities that we all share as humanity.
Nature is very important in my work. Culturally the move to Asia from South America was extremely abrupt and disorienting for a 10 year old. I struggled to look for clues to my previous life in Ecuador. Initially it was difficult finding a common thread in food, language or people, but it was easy finding the connection that I was looking for in nature, in grass, flowers, plants, rocks, clouds, the sky, the sun and moon. That finding was extremely comforting and reassuring. Living in a city (Quito, Macau, New York), many of these natural elements could be found in the cities’ green spaces . My own experience of relocating makes me wonder how newcomers benefit from city parks, and how city parks evolve and feed off of the arrival of these different immigrant communities. I’m excited that this year I will be participating in the Urban Field Station Artist Residency program to research the connection between city parks and their surrounding immigrant communities. This project somehow feels like an extension of EL DORADO to me.
Outside my studio I also want to collaborate and create opportunities for others and help recent immigrant artists navigate the NYC arts scene. Last year I participated as a mentor in NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program and loved it. I feel at this point that I have a lot to contribute as an immigrant artist, but also as a mentor to immigrant artists.
ANTE mag.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
CC. I look forward to be working and expanding on my “(in Blue) series” which is based on Blue and White ware, and its role throughout history in transmitting ideas and imagery across cultures. I love how it traces a global journey of migration and cultural exchange. I’m excited to be doing formal research on Blue and White ware through a fellowship which will complement the work I’ll be doing in my studio.
Lives and works San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York City
ANTE mag. Can you tell us more about your practice and how it evolved as a result of global forces (pandemic, travel bans, etc) during 2020?
Lionel Cruet. Surely, my studio space has evolved this past year 2020; and it has got completely reduced to the essential, more than before. I have focused more on visibility and communication using social media. I noticed that this year allowed me to communicate with my audience about nuances of my practice in a more effective way. In regards to the practice I have done much more research than before and I have managed the ways to use and language and communicate the ideas of my artworks effectively. I will say that after all it has been productive. Traveling has been a bit stressful and risky but I have to say that getting all the correct information has been the key.
ANTE mag. Your exhibition at Yi Gallery, Dusk/Daybreak, in 2020 was immersive, forcing the visitor to focus and slowing their gaze. Can you expand on how encouraging the viewer to encounter your work in a specific manner is important to you? Is it critical to slow the gaze when encountering your most recent body of work?
LC. When I was thinking about the exhibition there was a constant thought on making it immersive – as all other projects that I have created before – but this one was crucial to have an ambiance with a tinted red light as it made reference to multiple experiences. Most, importantly I wanted the audience to readjust their gaze and enter into an overarching visual and environmental effect. Recently there has been studies that state that the use of red light in coastal spaces helps to keep a balance and protect species like sea turtles that come out to land at night to nest. These red lights have been installed in some areas and I see it as a way to negotiate the spaces that these animals inhabit as well as different communities. Since the body of work references these alternative views of the coastal spaces, and the effects of natural and artificial light as well the relationships that happen in these areas, I thought it was necessary to flood the exhibition space with a red light.
ANTE. How has your ongoing work as a teacher impacted your artistic practice and vice-versa?
LC. I have to be super honest, I see both of them integrated. In my practice as an artist as well as an educator I perform lots of research, including social interaction and community building dynamics. In one way or another they feed each other. For the past year all academic activities have moved online and I think this is a positive new challenge to overcome. I have to bring all these dynamics into the virtual space and being in the academic practice as well in the arts for a decade now, moments like this make me rethink what I do, reduce and be more pragmatic and effective.
ANTE.What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
LC. Wow, I’m actually grateful to say that there’s much I’m looking forward to in 2021, starting now with the release of this interview with you for ANTE mag. I’m also creating an installation art project at the Center for Contemporary Art in Quito that is inspired by the entangled memories of mangroves. Additionally, I’m participating in a residency program in Quito, titled Ventisca, organized by La Planta. I will be focusing on subjects of ecological awareness and alternative forms of education. I’m also part of an upcoming exhibition Seascape Poetics curated by Bettina Pérez-Martínez at the 4th Space Gallery in Concordia University in Montréal. Last but not least, I will be participating in an upcoming online event titled Charla Fun from a microgrant project by the USLAF U.S. Latinx Art Forum. Stay tuned on my social media – including Instagram @lionelcruet @lionelcruetstudio – for updates.
ANTE.Tell us more about your journey as an artist: how did you get your start in your practice as a sculptor working primarily in wood?
Mark Eisendrath. I was working in paper and the things I was making were getting perilously close to falling apart due to the volume of texture, collage, and other media I was applying to the works.I was also using fire in my pieces to get the effects I wanted. So I needed a more substantial material.
ANTE.During your virtual studio visit with Pelham Art Center, which I enjoyed greatly, you spoke to the conceptual approaches you mount in your sculptures, both free-standing and wall mounted, and I wanted to hear more about what you are considering in terms of philosophy and the other influences that impact your work.
ME. What grabs me and pulls me into the shop is my materials. Not what they are but what they can be. I get an idea, I sketch it out, and sketch it again, and again. If it becomes an interesting drawing then I know it’s worth considering bringing it into the physical world as an object. But I have to be careful- sometimes the drawings become so enticing that I try to make the sculpture exactly like that – and that’s not enjoyable.
ANTE.We’ve spoken in the past about your narrow escapes from death and resulting impact on your everyday life in terms of visual impairment: in what ways do you think coping with the effects of your injuries have positively impacted your work?
ME. I don’t see the world in stereo – I see it in mono, which makes certain things pop out to me; while others are unavailable. This is a gift. I am drawn to flat picture planes- sidewalks, building facades, the earth at my feet, the end-grain face of cut firewood. All of these contain their scars and imperfections which is more than likely why I work with wood the way I do. I am stimulated by what I see, my injury causes me to miss some things, but I ‘see’ so much more.
ANTE. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ME. I love how I feel after a day in the studio – I am physically and mentally taxed. It’s a beautiful thing to have your work be a workout. I look forward to what’s possible. Specifically, I am looking forward to making a series of prints from both my raw materials and sculpture created specifically for this printing process. There is also a series of pieces in my sketchbook that are hungry to see the light of day.
ANTE. You participated in the Smack Mellon exhibition “Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment.” Can you shed insights on your contribution to this exhibition?
GOODW.Y.N. Performing Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Kingston Legacy II at Bound Up Together: On the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment revealed to me how much of women’s history in the country is tied together in an entanglement of destiny. The struggle for freedom from oppression, the necessity to carve out our own futures, both with and outside the hands of men really made me think about my female/fem ancestors who were trying to create a place for themselves in this world free of bigotry. Our voices are imperative and our presence is needed. I push for that to be seen in my work.
ANTE mag.This past year you produced several iterations of your performance series, “Ain’t I A Woman” across New York City. How did you choose the sites for this performance and how did you consider it as site-responsive in these multiple contexts?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to choosing sites for Ain’t I a Woman (?/!) I lean on historical, political and/or personal intricacies behind the “life” of each site. For example Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): Black August was a response to the history of Black August and its celebration of Black radical leaders, and how that is tying into the BLM movement and murals in New York City now. When I did Ain’t I a Woman (?/!): HOMEBound, HOMEComing however, I was performing and crafting from a personal, internal place and time within the history of my life and I connected that to the ancestors who were resilient enough to survive slavery in the United States. I don’t truly know if the site is responsive or not until I am performing on it. Every place has its own spirit, its own energy signature and I like to tap into that onsite.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us how your practice is developing/has developed as part of your MFA education at DIAP at City College (Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice)?
GOODW.Y.N. When it comes to my practice I’ve learned to lean on my words a lot more than I have in the past 6 years. The portraits I paint studying digital arts, and combining that with my other passions (body-performance, poetry) gives my work a unique flavor, a richness that never resided in it before. I am learning more and more about how I wish to tell stories, whether it be my own or someone else’s.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
GOODW.Y.N. We’re remodelling the home studio to include these classic posters around the walls, I really love the new energy that is coming to me from these posters! I think that they will inspire me to create new works that center around the state of affairs today and what tomorrow may look like.
ANTE mag. Can you introduce our audience to your practice and the type of mediums you work within?
Melissa Joseph. Hi Everyone! Thanks for taking time to get to know a little more about my practice. I am a visual artist and I work with fibers, found objects, my family photo archive, ink, watercolors, and collage. Most recently I have been exploring different types of felting with wool as a way to paint. I am also making an experimental video, my first video project, as part of a residency at BRIC. My entire practice is an endless investigation of how different bodies are permitted to occupy space.
ANTE mag. During our discussions on your work, it’s become evident that you’re very dedicated to perfecting your methods working with fiber art. To this end you’ve completed a residency with the Textile Arts Center among other residencies you’ve completed. Can you tell us how you’ve arrived on the methods you use in your fiber art work in particular and the type of content you feature in these series?
MJ. I am a material artist, so connecting to an object’s presence is important to my process. In my 20s I was trained as a textile designer, which has broad applications, but was a language that felt natural to a childhood found object maker like me. Humans’ connection to textiles and the relationship textiles have to body and memory are so compelling. Fabrics hold the form of the body long after being removed. They become emotional and political spaces, which is content that I could mine forever. In my work, I often start with Indian silk that is part of my material memory of my childhood and of my late father. He wore this material often. I print photographs from my family archive onto the silk, and then use needle and wet felting to create interventions or distortions to the imagery so that it more accurately reflects my lived experiences and memory.
ANTE mag. Can you talk to us about how your work as a curator feeds your practice as an artist, and vice versa?
MJ. I love this question! Seeing art feeds my soul, and by extension feeds my practice. I often stop to think about how, as artists, we all make such oddly specific work. I never get tired of looking, connecting and discovering new art. Curating provides the space to analyze, celebrate and share artists and work that I love. Some I love because it feels familiar, some I love because I think the message is important, some I love because I find it beautiful, some I love because it is technically mesmerizing– the reasons to love artwork are endless. When this enthusiasm meets the evolutionary tendency to sort and categorize things, magical things happen, like curation. Curating also gives me a chance to zoom in on particular artists and artworks in a way that I might not get to do otherwise. It is a way of discovering relationships between people, ideas, and conversations that are happening across disciplines and content. I have a habit of obsessively sharing work with others if I think they might like it. Sometimes I even send images of art to strangers I follow on instagram if I think they might relate to it.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
MJ. I am looking forward to my upcoming Workspace Residency at DieuDonne! Tatiana and Amy are so generous with their mastery of paper making, and I can’t wait to see what is possible and how I might incorporate it into my practice.
ANTE. Can you introduce your practice to ANTE readers, starting with your “Chapters” series?
Elaine T. Nguyen.Chapters is a reflective body of work addressing my lived experiences without the nostalgia that memory can bring. It is a recap of the significant moments in my life where my perspective and world shifted. The series is colorful and honest, each painting a new chapter with a cast, theme, or symbolic meaning described in words or displayed through imagery. With descriptions setting a scene or time such as “I Pepper Sprayed my Ass in the Anzo Borrego Desert” or “The Summer of Snark, Playlists, and Chocolate Chip Waffles @ Midnight”. It is a visual story and one that is less emotionally driven than previous works.
As part of my studio practice, I keep monthly sketchbooks, a process that dates back to 2015. It was through these books that I found myself in a reflective mood and one insistent on honest self-evaluation and growth. Chapters started out as a summary of different segments of life and that was made purely for me to reflect on and not something that was ever intended to become paintings. It was upon rereading those words that I realized how easily it could be transitioned into paintings with imagery and more importantly, how much I wanted this to exist not just as words in my journals. I created a ton of sketches of all these moments and the colors came easily, more about the feeling of certain colors than the colors in real life. It was the desire to have these be colorful that led me to the traditional stretched canvas and paint. I work on multiple paintings at the same time which allows me to continue making as one piece is drying and it also supports my color palette and how that can be seen across different paintings pulling them closer together. I go back and forth from painting to painting to sketching out new ideas and flipping through old sketchbooks when I am a bit stuck on a shape and sometimes even color combinations I created previously and never used.
ANTE mag. “Chapters” marks a departure in many senses from your 2017 series I admire, “I Can’t Wait to Remember This,” although they share a sense of bright colors and memory-making. How does memory play in impact in your paintings?
ETN. What I find interesting about memory is every time you remember something it becomes less and less accurate. That’s what started my series I Can’t Wait to Remember This, this need to remember these glorious moments and more importantly how it made me feel. That’s where the color came in, the vibrance and playful nature of mixed media with sparkles and tinsel, and a blend of colors is a reminder of how saturated these moments were with childlike joy.
This series, Chapters, was not so much about remembering or processing but about being honestly reflective of past events, the factual moments rather than the romantic nostalgia of memory. I didn’t draw inspiration from the most beautiful moments in life but the most impactful, the times where my life and my perspective has shifted. Each painting is a new chapter, there is an element of growth and difference with these. Though my past events are memories, the focus here is on a larger idea of collective storytelling piecing together a visual book of sorts and an ode to all of the impactful things that shape who I am currently.
ANTE mag. During our conversation as part of your recognition in the ANTE mag 2020 open call win, we discussed your text-based works on fabric. Can you speak with us about the beginnings and evolution of this body of work?
ETN.Blue Talks, the text-based works we had previously spoken about, invited audiences in to discuss, the work not necessarily about me, but the experiences that I share with a marginalized group of people. The transition between Chapters and Blue Talks began with a creative break. During this time I read books and I also reread my old sketchbooks, all 60 of them. I went through years of my life finding connections, observing common themes and ideas, seeing my younger self grow. It got me thinking about how I would section my life: the conflicts, the friendships, the moments and places of significance. What started out looking like an outline to a book became intertwined with imagery, paintings easily coming to mind representing each new chapter of growth. Chapters is an autobiography, or rather, a memoir due to its selective memory and fluctuation in the timeline. The color choices are always based on how that memory feels, occasionally pulling from the actual colors of objects but it does lean more towards the colors that excite me, the ones that feel more accurate based on emotion. The beginning works of this series are paint based, but as I continue I find myself incorporating mediums I previously used such as cyanotype, fabric, and embroidery. I have become more invested in breaking out of the frame and being intentional with the display.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ETN. As my work evolves, medium-wise, I find myself delving back into the draped fabric and a combination of that with stretched canvases. I am also finding myself incorporating the embroidery that I was doing but on sturdier surfaces and on top of the paint. Conceptually, I am moving away from real lived experiences towards making up memories that don’t yet exist. I’m interested in this modern concept of “manifesting’ our own realities and have been focusing on dreaming up my own future. There is so much unknown currently in the world but there is a lot personally known of where I would like to be and the memories that I want to eventually make. I am looking forward to manifesting my goals, envisioning trips and friendships, and also writing and painting my own future chapters. I’m looking forward to this body of work is the culmination of work I’ve made so far, one that you can observe and say it all speaks to each other in a fluid way rather than a part of a progression.
ANTE mag. You have an ongoing exhibition on view through February 18th in NYC and an upcoming show in Singapore. Can you talk to us about each show, and what work you have included in each?
ZW. I’m showing my most recent project Where Did Macy Go? in both shows. The show in New York includes the main video and a large print (video still). The upcoming show in Singapore (My first solo exhibition in Asia) will include a large projection of the main video, 5 prints (video still) on aluminum, and a giant inflatable of the protagonist Macy (18 x 7 feet).
Where Did Macy Go?is an 11-episode animated video told through a series of reports of Macy’s encounter with the epidemic, life during the quarantine, search for his grandfather’s farm and his revival. The video discusses the collapse of old community structures, the emergence of a new community after decollectivization, Confucian obedience vs. social obedience, as well as the new tele-republic of home, “mask politics” and social justice under the pandemic. Originally posted on TikTok to challenge the possibility of online exhibitions, the work is a response to this era of volatility, complexity and confusion.
Heavily inspired by Homi Bhabha’s The Third Space theory, my project often includes setting up a multi-layered system to trigger the collision of various conflicting or seemingly unrelated elements and topics from different social and cultural backgrounds. Due to Covid-19, it’s the first time we seen so many thinkers from all over the world writing about the same issue at the same time, from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agemben’s techno-totalitarism, to the argument between Slovenian philosopher Zizek and Korean-born German philosopher Han Byung-Chul: The re-invention of communism vs. the vigorous restoration of global capitalism, to French philosopher Bruno Latour and French writer François Gemenne’s argument on COVID’s influence on climate change, to Paul B. Preciado’s Pharmacopornography and Tele-Republic of Home. By juxtaposing all the complex and even conflicting arguments above, I was able to examine the “in-between” space of different social and political ideologies using COVID-19 as context.
ANTE mag. As an extension of your practice you’ve been creating AR filters which are regularly becoming wildly popular across social media. Can you talk to how these filters expand your practice outside of perhaps a narrower view of what constitutes Fine Art studies at the university level for example?
ZW. Similar to posting the videos on TikTok, these AR effects and Instagram filters, which is a part of the project Where Did Macy Go?, are also my response to the current time where many exhibitions were trying to recreate an IRL experience on their own websites, while I prefer to take advantage of what Internet and social media does the best: sharing and redistributing. So far these AR effects have been shown over 100,000 times on Instagram.
I think they opened up some new possibilities for my work. For example, when using the Macy (Split Face) filter, every user becomes a version of Macy. When thousands of users post their own version of Macy, the dimension of this project are widely expanded (both conceptually and geologically), which is very important to the in-between space I was seeking to achieve. Additionally, when using the Macy (Playboy) application, for example, dozens of characters’ faces in the scene are replaced by the user’s face, which creates a new possibility for a collective narrative. It could also be seen/used as a new tool for performance works.
This mode of exploration and experimentation exists in all my works: They often start from an event, a moment, an emotion, or a stimulation that I have strong feelings about. I will then start my research including studying the related philosophy and history, collecting archives and data, and finding the most appropriate medium to realize the project, which often includes learning a new technique or collaborating with professionals in the related field. It is very important to examine what each medium is best at, and be able to choose the right medium that could convey your concept the most successfully and efficiently. Especially, each medium and genre have their own established ways of experiencing the works. When we utilize a particular medium, we already have a long history in its own field that serves as the context of experiencing the work, which could be either taken advantage of, and/or be used to challenge and subvert.
ANTE mag. Speaking of academia, you are also busy working as an instructor at SVA and ITP. How do you find that teaching impacts your practice in the studio and vice versa?
ZW. As a visual artist, I have always believed that my responsibility and function (or what artists are best at) is to ask questions by constructing a visual experience, instead of solving problems (For example, activists, scientists and politicians are so much better at solving problems than artists).
What teaching brought me, is the notion of solving problems through education, and achieving something through a collective manner, especially in today’s unique context. I have been making a few collaborative projects in the past few years, and I’m hoping to do more in the future.
ANTE mag. What are you looking forward to in 2021 in your studio?
ZW. I’m currently working on a project titled Networked Ecosystem (in collaboration with artist Mark Ramos) – A live-simulation project that presents an ecosystem built of a variety of AI senses. Commissioned by NEW INC, Rhizome and Nokia Bell Labs, Networked Ecosystem takes LIDAR (location and distance), GECKO (temperature, humidity, air pressure and gas density) and other robotic vision and sensing data collected by Bell Labs’ experimental robots and sensors over the past few decades, re-purposing it to drive a 3D environmental simulation that viewers explore and interact with the simulated world and each other in an ever-changing environment. In particular, the simulation will present AI’s past, current (Covid-19), and future encounter and experience of climate change based on the massive collected climate related data, to contemplate questions about human’s sensory relationships with robot and AI, and how they survive in the chaotic world we’ve created.
For this interview series, we sat down with the artists of “Intrinsic” – an exhibition on view at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge in 2020 – to gain insights into their practice and learn more about what inspires them and the background informing the artworks they had on view in the exhibit (visible on the “Intrinsic” exhibition page on Antecedent Projects.) Artist Melissa Joseph shared her reflections on how her work with textiles and fiber art has evolved, the images her work expresses and the projects she is tackling end of 2020/start of 2021!
(Above work: New Wefts (2019) by Melissa Joseph, Inkjet print on Indian duppioni silk, twine, found stones and yarn. 24 x 24 x 2″)
ANTE mag. For “Intrinsic” at The Yard, Williamsburg Bridge, you featured works embracing a range of processes, including weaving and working with felt. Can you talk to us about the range of processes you engage with and how these have developed in your practice?
Melissa Joseph. I understand the world through materials. I use intuition and my image archive as points of inspiration and reference, and then filter them through media, often textiles and fibers. I feel a deep connection to natural fibers, stone, and heavy metals more than other materials. They always find their way into my work. I admire weaving, but I am a novice and it makes my brain work in a different way than it usually does. It’s a way to explore structure and have less control over the final product than I normally do. I like to challenge myself with things like this from time to time, but I will always return to the ways of making that feel more natural for me.
ANTE mag. Can you tell us about your recent work in residency with the Textile Arts Center and your recent exhibition there?
Melissa Joseph. The Textile Arts Center is an amazing place. It allows for play, skill-building, experimentation and growth. It is also the most supportive and empathetic community I have ever encountered. I was able to try several ways of making and in the end, I landed on felting. It was a way to paint with fiber, and I loved it right away! From the name to the process itself, it reflects the themes of my practice and personality. In my most recent exhibition there, I showed a collection of felt works alongside some found objects that I have collected. Any image-based work I make is always related to the emotions of the materials.
ANTE mag. What aspects of your practice have you been deepening during lockdown and quarantine in recent times? Have you embarked on new projects, series or processes?
Melissa Joseph. I am a double Capricorn, which might not mean much to some people, but to some it might explain how much I have thrown myself so fully into my practice during quarantine. It’s partly a survival mechanism, but it’s also a way to process some of the things that are going on. I really only started felting in March, so it’s been a covid-tinged discovery. I am in the middle of a pretty deep dive with it, trying to see where it can go.
ANTE mag. What upcoming projects can you share with us that are in the pipeline?
Melissa Joseph. I am excited to share that I am curating a few shows late 2020/early 2021. One is at a gallery called Shelter in Place. The gallery is 1/12 scale, so all the artworks are tiny. Another will be online through the Textile Arts Center. More info on shows I’m participating in and my curatorial projects on my Instagram, @melissajoseph_art . I am also a Video Artist in Residence at BRIC Media House in Brooklyn, so I am trying out some animation and video software right now that I hope will lead to something cool eventually!